What Constitutes a Queer Leadership?

Laying the stepping stones for a new way forward.

Darren Stehle
Aug 24 · 6 min read

For some time I’ve been pondering the question, “What is queer leadership — and does it even exist?”

It would be easier to ask, “What is Gay Leadership?” because we have witnessed gay leadership work to usher in many of the rights, freedoms, and acceptance that we enjoy — albeit precariously — in much of North America and many parts of Europe.

However, this is not to negate the leadership of Lesbians, Trans people and more recently the work of people challenging sexual and gender binary labels, as well as the very labels that make up the ever-changing LGBTQ acronym. In the larger sense, the word gay was historically used to include everyone before we had our current, expansive, and fluid acronym. However, gay has also excluded those who were conveniently overlooked, because they didn’t have a unique label to express their unique identity.

Which brings me back to my opening question, to which I will add,

There doesn’t yet exist a so-called “queer leadership” per se, or that I know of, but I am working on developing this new style of leadership that our world desperately needs. That starts here, with this “Living Document”, which I will continually add to, modify, and come back to as the foundations for what I hope to co-create with many other like-minded, queer thinkers.

Listen to the Podcast:

A New, Queer Path

In early 2018, I read Ray Rigoglioso’s book, “Gay Men And The New Way Forward”, followed by his five-month Gay Men of Wisdom program. Rigoglioso discusses what he has determined to be 14 distinct gifts that are unique to many gay men. These are qualities and characteristics that any human being can have, but how and the propensity to which they show up indicates unique perspectives, insights, and behaviours demonstrated primarily by gay men.

Rigoglioso does the gay male community a tremendous service in demonstrating how many gay men practice these unique gifts, and how they can be used in various ways to improve society. What’s missing, but not absent, is the larger discussion of the strategies and methods for how gay men can use those gifts to lead others, as Rigoglioso writes, to “create evolutionary change in the world.”

Rigoglioso’s work is deliberately focused on gay men:

As a self-identified gay, cis-male, I have learned much more about who I am as a gay man and even experienced a “paradigm shift” in my understanding of forgiveness and empathy as the result of working with Ray, and the other gay men in the Gay Men of Wisdom program. I can both specifically and broadly share my experiences (my narrative) as a gay man, but I cannot assume to speak for a lesbian, a trans person, or however anyone else may choose to self-label.

I also identify as queer — not as a genderqueer man — in my politics and social justice views. This is how I feel connected to something bigger than me though my friendships and support of anyone within the scope of LGBTQ+.

Definition and etymology of the word, queer

queer (adj.)

c. 1500, “strange, peculiar, eccentric,” from Scottish, perhaps from Low German (Brunswick dialect) queer “oblique, off-center,” related to German quer “oblique, perverse, odd,” from Old High German twerh “oblique,” from PIE root terkw- “to twist.”

queer (v.)

“to spoil, ruin,” 1812, from queer (adj.). Related: Queered; queering. Earlier it meant “to puzzle, ridicule, cheat” (1790). — source

What these etymological definitions show is that being a consciously queer person is radically different from the status quo. Being queer is what the dominant hegemonic culture and patriarchy attempt to control and suppress.

I’m a strong proponent and defender of the words gay and queer to indicate identity and acceptance, not exclusion. We can use these words to incorporate variation and we can use them to sharpen our focus. What matters is allowing the individual to choose how they wish to be labelled (if at all), to understand what these words mean in the larger semantic field, and to embrace or reclaim words that others have used to harm and disenfranchise us.

When it comes to using someone’s preferred gender pronouns, often the new and different labels can be confusing. But for now, we need these labels. We need these ways of describing ourselves to be visible and to be included. Until we live in a world where asking first how someone wishes to be addressed is “normal”, or we use they/them as default pronouns, just because someone doesn’t understand the importance of this semantic and linguistics shift does not mean they deserve to be disrespectful or hateful of others self-identification.

The Queer is Political

Looping back to my original question, I feel it’s important to add that we need to queer our current politics, specifically to change from a politics of division to a politics of belonging. We need to recognize that difference does not need to equate with divisiveness.

How ironic — how queer — that LGBTQ people may someday create a political movement for the betterment of humanity, to lay the path for,

Here we begin to realize that our so-called difference — our “otherness” — is our greatest strength. Our difference is our uniqueness and our source of insight — the gift of deep introspection (due in part to various forms and duration of having lived in the closet). As queer people, we can use our unique gifts to make a profound, humanitarian difference in the world.

Darren is a coach, podcaster, and writer for LGBTQ thought leadership. He is currently working on the project, “The Way of Queer Leadership”. You can follow his ideas here on Th-Ink Queerly, and discover more about his coaching at DarrenStehle.com.

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Th-Ink Queerly

Think Queerly is a LGBTQ+ thought leadership magazine and podcast that challenges the hegemonic status quo, disrupts prejudice, and demonstrates our vital role in society as queer leaders to improve humanity.

Darren Stehle

Written by

Thought Leadership Coaching & LGBTQ Advocacy. “Use your difference to make a difference.” https://darrenstehle.com.

Th-Ink Queerly

Think Queerly is a LGBTQ+ thought leadership magazine and podcast that challenges the hegemonic status quo, disrupts prejudice, and demonstrates our vital role in society as queer leaders to improve humanity.

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